The cold season is here with us, and it’s the time when most people suffer from the common cold—a viral infectious disease, usually, of the upper respiratory tract. Though harmless and self-treatable, a cold is probably the last thing you may want to endure this winter season considering the discomfort that comes with the symptoms.
Symptoms usually show up 1-3 days after you become infected with the virus, and may last between 3-10 days or even longer for others, especially if you smoke. The severity also varies from one individual to the other, and so do the symptoms themselves.
The most common signs include:
Symptoms of a common cold
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Mild headaches
- Low-grade fever
- Slight body aches
Causes of the common cold
There are various viruses known to cause the common cold; however, rhinoviruses and coronaviruses are the major culprits. These viruses find their way into your body through the nose, eyes, or mouth, and easily spread via tiny droplets in the air, especially when an infected individual sneezes, coughs, or talks.
You can also contract a cold by direct contact with contaminated surfaces, objects, infected persons, and or secretions. In most cases, people touch their eyes, nose, or mouth unconsciously after such contact and so get infected.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure or vaccine for the common cold; however, over-the-counter medication can be administered to help relieve the symptoms. Also, natural remedies such as a hot steamy bath, enough rest, and good nutrition have proven to offer relief and help cope with the symptoms.
Below are the other remedies you can try to help ease your symptoms:
Effective common cold remedies
Common cold treatment is all about managing the symptoms, and here is how you can do that:
1. Adequate rest
Simply sleep it off. Sleep is crucial in the body’s healing process as it allows your immune system to ward off infections. It plays a vital role in boosting your immune system thus a great way to ensure an enhanced recovery process from a cold.
But how do you ensure a good sleep with all the discomfort that comes with a sore throat, runny nose, congestion, and cough?
a) Use pillows to shore up your head
Ensure your head is elevated when you lay down to help prevent the accumulation of mucus at the back of your throat, otherwise, the accumulation may lead to congestion. You’ll, therefore, be left with no choice but to breathe through your mouth, something that will dry out your throat further thus aggravating the pain.
b) Add moisture
You can choose to use a humidifier or simply a cool-mist vaporizer, but make sure you change the water daily and clean the unit (as per the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions) to prevent mold or mildew from building up.
A humidifier works by increasing moisture content in the air thus relieving dry sinuses.
c) Take hot tea—this can be decaf green tea, peppermint tea, or ginger tea.
Hot beverages help clear nasal passages and ease congestion.
d) Use honey instead of normal sugar
Honey is believed to be a powerful cough remedy, and so add it to your tea.
2. Stay hydrated
Not all beverages offer relief from cold symptoms, in fact, others like alcohol only worsen the situation. Instead of keeping you hydrated, alcohol will dehydrate you—simply by drying out your mucous membranes and further causing discomfort, which, therefore, makes it impossible to fight the virus.
On the other hand, drinking lots of fluids like water, mint tea, and lemon juice helps you stay hydrated and allows for the optimal operation of your immune system. Good hydration helps loosen congestion to make you feel better when battling a common cold.
3. Gargle with warm saltwater
The salt here helps pull the mucus out of your inflamed tissues thus relieving the discomfort. To prepare the mixture, mix a ¼ to ½ tablespoon salt with warm water (4-8 ounces/1 cup) and stir until all the salt dissolves. Gargle with the solution several times a day and be sure to spit out after several seconds.
4. Consider Zinc
Zinc is believed to shorten the duration of a cold, especially when taken at the very first signs of a cold.
5. Vitamin C
Though not an effective cold prevention measure, regular vitamin C supplements have been found to help reduce a cold’s severity and duration.
Preferably, take the supplements during an infection. Why?
Vitamin C, even though, highly concentrated in the immune cells, gets depleted quickly during an infection, leaving you even more vulnerable to the cold symptoms. But a boost during the infection period helps strengthen your immune system to enable you to recover faster from the cold.
6. Try a Neti pot
This is a small container designed to help rinse mucus or debris from your nasal cavity, and a saline solution is a crucial ingredient here.
Saline solution (a mixture of salt and water) is readily available at the local drug stores but you can still opt to make your own. Just be sure to use distilled bottled water or alternatively boil your tap water and let it cool to lukewarm state.
Using a neti pot
Stand next to a sink with your head tilted sideways (above the sink) then gently insert the spout, that is, the long tube on your neti pot, into the upper nostril. Breathe using your open mouth as you gently release the saline solution into the upper nostril so that it drains via the lower nostril. You can repeat the procedure on the other side.
Rinse the spout with distilled or previously boiled and cooled water, and leave in the open to dry.
How often you use the neti pot will depend on the severity of your symptoms. Once a day is sufficient but for severe symptoms, 3-4 times a day is recommended. In the case of allergies or chronic issues, use 3 times a week to help curb the symptoms.
7. Saline drops
This is especially for young kids who may find it intolerable to use the neti pot to clear the nasal passage. In such a case, put in a few saline drops in each nostril and get a rubber bulb suction to eliminate the mucus, especially if the child isn’t able to effectively blow his/her nose.
8. Hot steamy shower
With congestion, an extremely sore throat, and cough, you can’t sleep. To ease such symptoms and catch some good sleep, consider a hot steamy bath before heading to bed. It not only opens the dry nasal passages but also loosens up mucus so you can rest peacefully and adequately.
Try incorporating some eucalyptus, peppermint or rosemary essential oils into your hot shower to help relax your body and calm you down. Alternatively, use a diffuser for the essential oils.
9. Mentholated rub
Limited research findings indicate that a menthol rub on the chest and throat may help ease nose and sinus congestion as opposed to when it’s applied to other areas like the feet.
Does it really work? The answer is yes and no. While it relieves cold symptoms in some people, others have had no positive results from using Echinacea.
You can try it out to see if it works for your symptoms. But be warned of a possible stomach-upset side effect.
Stay away from using the herb if you’re allergic to plants like marigolds, ragweed or chrysanthemums, or any other daisy family plants.
When should you seek a second opinion from a doctor?
The duration of the virus should be your number one telltale sign that something is wrong or you’re just experiencing the normal symptoms.
Consider visiting a doctor if you exhibit the following:
- Prolonged fever
- Persistent cough
- Unexplained chest pain or difficulty in breathing
- Persistent headache and congestion
- Difficulty in swallowing
Final Thoughts on Battling the Common Cold (and winning!)
Prevention is always better than cure, you know that. Below are some of the measures to help reduce your chances of infection by a cold.
How to lower your susceptibility to the common cold
- Wash your hands often for a minimum of 20 seconds
Ensure you thoroughly clean in between your fingers and under your fingernails to erode off any hiding germs. You can use plain soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in case you aren’t near a water source.
Then dry with a towel—preferably a paper towel. Cloth towels can as well do the job, though they offer a conducive environment for the viruses to thrive, and so you may want to avoid them especially if you share the same towel with other people.
- Up your general hygiene
This should include all the often-touched surfaces around your home. Things like remote control, doorknobs, phones, keyboards, toys, desks, and even countertops can easily harbor viruses just by a touch from an infected person, therefore, the need to always disinfect them.
- Avoid smoking
- Avoid touching your face—this includes your mouth, nose, and eyes.
Doing so with unclean hands can provide avenues for the viruses to enter your body, and especially if you’ve come into contact with an infected person.
- Dispose of used tissues
Put all the tissue pieces you’ve handled (sneezed on) straight to the dust bin or flush them in a toilet to help prevent depositing the viruses to other surfaces.
- Observe and maintain a healthy lifestyle
To achieve sound health, ensure you feed on a healthy diet, stay hydrated, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. Regular exercises also help reduce stress, which also partly contributes to the worsening of viral infections in some people.
Remember a healthy lifestyle equals a strong immune system that is able to fight off a cold